Human nature makes us seek out the commonalities between us (as in “what job do you do? Oh really, so does Fred.."). So it's no surprise that, when I think about George Herbert, I see how similar we are (!) in moving around a lot in our lives - although there the similarities end, I can assure you.
Many people have lived in Salisbury all their lives (and why not? it's beautiful) but I have lived in a good many places, including one patch in my 20’s when I had a 12 different address in 6 years. This means that I’ve lost touch with many more friends than I’ve kept. So the ones I’ve had the longest - just a couple from my teens - are the most valuable ( Proverbs 20:6 ). And it so happens that for various reasons two of my longest friends are both becoming parents for the first time, one in the USA and one in Barcelona, both in their 40’s.
What an age to start such an adventure! The benefit of wisdom, but the lack of stamina and energy. They will join the other way of dividing the world: rather than men and women, there are parents and not parents. Often they don’t speak the same language as we do, nor sleep the same hours or spend their money on the same things. But good luck, Claire and Dave!
Herbert was never a parent, but chose to give a home to three orphaned nieces. To lose parents would be trauma enough, but then to lose their adopted father as well when he died in 1633 - it must have been very tough. One of the best nuggets I picked up at vicar factory was about parenthood.
Herbert was never a parent, but chose to give a home to three orphaned nieces. To lose parents would be trauma enough, but then to lose their adopted father as well when he died in 1633 - it must have been very tough. One of the best nuggets I picked up at vicar factory was about parenthood. People expressed concern over calling God 'Father' - that it may be sexist, and more significantly, that some people have poor experiences of parents, so how are we to say that God is like this? The professor turned it on its head, saying “we get our definition of fatherhood and parenthood from God. We call human parents Father, because they are a little like God’s parenting, not the other way around".
So if Mr Herbert and I have a parish and 'not settling down' in common, in how many ways are our worlds different? When I took the Remembrance service at the Lych Gate it struck me that George knew nothing of world wars, or millions dead. When I send emails to South America, or access most of the world's literature and knowledge in seconds via the internet, I think "you’d have loved this, George".
When I have excellent medical care in a hospital that is like a small city, I think of the difference it would have made. Yet, he had more nature - not blocked out by double glazing and heating. He had more relationships, not kept at bay by distance or diaries or sheer number. He would have had more time in some ways - to travel at less than 30 mph would be interesting. Given this perspective, he wrote about the eternal, constant things - God, love, life and death - and so he still has something powerful to say today.
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